What does alcohol-free mean?

Many peoples first choice drinks has become non-alcoholic in recent years. In the UK alcohol free refers to a drink that does not contain alcohol or a drink in which the alcohol has been extracted. Does that really mean that the drinks don’t contain alcohol? The answer to that is not so straight forward.

Ripe fruits and fresh juices willy naturally start to ferment and may have up to 1% alcohol when you consume them. Condiments and vinegars will also feature alcohol with brewed ingredients such as soy sauce regularly passing the 2% ABV mark. Even brea and yoghurt may contain some alcohol. Generally speaking anything with less than 0.5% is considered alcohol free.

There are many reasons why people would choose to drink alcohol free drinks;

Health - reducing the number of units consumed a week can help counteract the longer-term serious health effects that can occur when drinking too much alcohol. It can help prevent heart disease, high blood pressure, mental health problems and also cancer.

Diet - Non alcoholic drinks have a lower calorific content than their alcoholic equivalent so it is a great alternative.

Variety - being able to have a choice to opt for lower alcoholic drinks means people can like mixing up their options of what they drink.

Social acceptance - In social settings which are largely centered around alcohol some people may feel the need to fit in, having a non alcoholic pint in your hand is a good way of doing that.

Better sleep - Alcoholic drinks send you off to sleep quicker but the quality of it is much worse, non alcoholic drinks mean you will wake up fresher in the morning.

It is essentially impossible for non-alcoholic drinks to make you intoxicated. This is because the ABV percentage is really small compared to how quickly the body can process alcohol, ones body will process it almost as quickly as you drink it so the blood level cannot build up to a point where you feel drunk. It is important to remember however that even though non-alcoholic drinks cannot get you drunk, your liver still has to process the alcohol that these drinks contain.

What is the difference between low and non-alcoholic drinks?

The key difference between low and non-alcoholic drinks is the percentage. Low alcohol drinks contain no more than 1.2%ABV and in the UK non-alcoholic drinks currently means no more than 0.05% ABV and across Europe and the USA alcohol-free means anything under 0.5%.

Before Brexit an alcohol free beer made in Germany could be sold in the UK at 0.5% because of EU trading regulations however now due to UK law it has to be no more than 0.05%. The ‘mutual recognition’ of the law means that Post-Brexit alcohol free drinks can be sold at 0.5%. The law around alcohol, free drinks is quite archaic and convoluted but there will be more government discussion and whiter papers on the topic soon.


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